Anyone who thinks that all the New Zealand wine industry produces is case after case of ‘cats pee on a gooseberry bush’ Sauvignon Blanc should have attended our Family of Twelve tasting at Thomas Peatling Fine Wines in Bury St Edmunds recently. The Family of Twelve is a fraternity of twelve of New Zealand’s most prestigious artisanal wineries who joined together in 2005 to promote the best of the countries wines. Rather than being in competition with each other, the members of ‘the family’ share information, both in regards to best practices in wine making and to marketing their products for the benefit of all.
The companies who are members are at the cutting edge of New Zealand wine-making and are all passionate about their craft and it’s this passion which shows through in their wines which are all, as their vision states, ‘beyond the normal’. The group of ‘rebel’ tasters who turned their backs on the ‘Dry January’ cult had twelve very different wines to taste and while there were two Sauvignon Blancs included in the list it was interesting that even these, both from the well-known South Island area of Marlborough, were very different from each other. The more ‘classic Kiwi’ Lawsons Dry Hills (£12.50 The Wine Society) with its intense fresh flavours was contrasted by the more subtle, complex Nautilus Estate (£13.35 Majestic Wines) offering. A widely acclaimed Chardonnay from Kumeu River Estate was very popular, with many people stating that it would give a top Burgundy a run for its money (£27 Majestic Wines).
One of the relatively new white grape varieties to New Zealand is Viognier, currently planted on a very small scale. This is one of the great aromatic grape varieties, famous in the Rhone Valley in Southern France. Millton Vineyards produce their Riverpoint Viognier in the Gisborne region on the East coast of the North Island and the blending of the main grape variety with some Marsanne, another Rhone variety, produces a great wine which in their own words is ‘a haunting wine with a bristling delicacy, buoyed with a noted mineral edge’. Great stuff, particularly at £13.75 a bottle (The New Zealand Cellar).
All of the white wines tasted scored very highly with everyone, and great things were expected of the red selection from ‘the Family’. If Sauvignon Banc is considered New Zealand’s signature white variety, then Pinot Noir is the most widely grown red variety because it is best adapted to the cool, maritime influenced climate. Four Pinot Noir’s were compared, ranging in price from Marlborough’s Palliser Estate Pinot Noir (£15.99 Winedirect.co.uk) up to the truly scrumptious Felton Road Pinot Noir Bannockburn from Central Otago (£29 Berry Bros & Rudd), but the real highlight as far as the red wines were concerned was the Craggy Range Syrah from Gimblett Gravels Vineyard in Hawke’s Bay, North Island. Deep coloured with mellow tannins and rich, ripe, berry flavours, it has a wonderful aroma of black pepper, cedar and herbs, with a fine long, stylish finish (£17.50 The Wine Society).
Past tasting indicate that Bury wine drinkers tend to love bigger, full bodied wines and the final wine of the evening, from the largest producer of the Family of Twelve, the well-known Villa Maria, didn’t disappoint. I’m sure that everyone has tasted Villa Maria’s Sauvignon Blanc before, it’s in virtually every supermarket range, but we recommend searching out some of their red offerings. Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot is a great Kiwi version of a Bordeaux-style blend with ripe tannins and a good finish which was tested by our tasters with one of our many ‘tips’ on how to taste wine involving the group counting how long the taste lasts while sitting with their mouths gaping wide to allow oxygen to get into the mouth – sounds odd I know but that’s the kind of thing we get up to in our wine tastings that make them fun as well as educational!
The Family of Twelve concept of smaller producers joining together to collaborate in the marketing of their wines is a good business concept, and their enthusiasm for their products has been duplicated by their neighbours ‘Australia’s First Families of Wines’ to great effect. With the UK’s growing reputation for top-class sparkling wines its perhaps a model that they could follow. Who’s up for the ‘Family of Fizz’?